I appreciate you taking the time to read this nonetheless, Ruth and responding with your thoughts.
Benjamin Sledge
2281

So I see your reply, and I’m going to address the three things you’ve pulled up to me here, re: “absolved of your sin”, forgiveness, and what I think the solution should have been. Thank you for being polite, and I hope this last reply on my part will settle the conversation.

In the first instance, you seem to have misread the context of my comment. I did not say that this article was you asking to be absolved, but the way you approached Jake, someone you knew to be a survivor, to see if he would still accept you as part of his organisation in the knowledge that you were a perpetrator of manipulative and coercive behaviour.

I took issue with this because, as I said, I have been in this position. As a result, I know it is nearly impossible to truthfully say “no, I’m not okay with this”. When I was approached with that information, the situation was very much that guy saying to me “I am holding onto this guilt, and knowing that you are a survivor and spending time with you is making that guilt worse. Therefore, I am confessing, for the sake of my own feelings.”

The guy in question had not done anything to wrong me at that time, so this was not an apology. He just wanted me to make him feel better. That is, at the best of times, something that is very difficult to say “no” to. In the context where you’ve just discovered that somebody you know really isn’t the person you thought they were, and in one where they are addressing your status as a survivor, you are placed in a position of additional vulnerability. So this is what I am referring to when I talk about survivors being asked to redeem and absolve the guilty: these one-on-one conversations, not the article you’ve written here for Medium.

Secondly, I did not at all bring up you being a man as a factor when I referred to your derision towards the women who chose not to forgive you. Rather, unlike your conversation with Jake, you are speaking to people you have, personally, wronged. To be dismissive about their decisions not to forgive you personally strikes me as similar to breaking somebody’s leg, and then being critical about the cast they choose to set the bone with.

“But there’s empirical evidence for that cast being really bad for your health, it’s not a gender thing.” Okay, but they wouldn’t be in that position had you not broken their leg. Additionally, you have no idea what resources they may or may not have to access better treatment. Sometimes you just have to slap on a makeshift splint and walk, if that’s all you can do. That will absolutely cause medical complications down the line, but only because your leg was broken in the first place.

And this theme in your writing continues with your admonishment, implicitly towards women (as you clarify that it was not women that changed you, but better men than you) that shame is not an effective tool. In this, you are making the response of survivors about you and your feelings, as well as a rather unfortunate implication that you believe that survivors are using shame as an intentional or manipulative tool, rather than speaking freely about our experiences.

So, as to what I think you should have done here? Nothing. #MeToo was never about you, or your feelings. It was about us, speaking, being heard. You ask “what should men do”, but nothing here called for your voice. You’re correct that it would have been inappropriate for you to pretend and to wag your finger, but nobody is asking you to do that. Again, it seems like you’re interpreting this entire space as an exercise in public shaming, as if this is the only outcome from survivors expressing their grief or anger, or looking for solidarity.

Throughout this article, you criticise women for being unforgiving, for talking about misogyny, and implicitly blame us for bringing violence upon ourselves because shame brings on aggression. All the while admitting that you didn’t change because of the actions of women, but because of the actions of other men who you wanted to be more like.

This does not read like a man who wants to own his guilt or apologise, as you say your intentions were, or an article that would break up the status quo or interrupt an echo chamber. Men talking about how survivors are doing it wrong, how they are blameless victims of porn/media, and that the only thing that changes their mind is the opinions of other men very much is already the status quo.

I hope you understand better why I took such great issue with this article being pushed to my homepage. But, honestly, you don’t have to agree with me. I do however hope that you reflect on something I mentioned in my original comment, that you did not reply to.

“I never sexually assaulted a woman” and “ I manipulated and shamed four different girls within a week into hooking up” are contradictory statements. Manipulating people into sleeping with you is coercion. Coercion excludes the presence of freely given consent. That is more than harassment.

Maybe what you can best take away from #MeToo is not the chance to attempt a public apology, but that you clearly still have more to learn about why #MeToo is even a thing, beyond your current ideas of what makes an honourable and dishonourable man.

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